Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino heritages are a major part of Texas history. Chinese immigrants first came as laborers to build Houston and the Texas railroad system in 1870. Throughout the 19th century, immigrants from across Asia came to Texas, growing and enriching the Lone Star state.
Asian foods fit in beautifully with traditional Southern cuisine, elevating Southern food to a whole new level. It was at a Vietnamese small hole-in-the-wall that I first had catfish that wasn’t battered and deep fried. Instead, it was roasted in a medley of herbs and spices and wrapped in a banana leaf.
My family and I became regulars at a large Chinese spot in town. I was a child, so chicken nuggets covered in sauce were right up my alley. I ordered General Tso’s chicken, kung pao chicken and sesame chicken regularly. Sesame chicken was my all-time favorite and quickly became my comfort food, but I soon realized what really made it good was the fry on the chicken and a sauce that wasn’t sweet.
When I went to grad school in California, I practically lived off Chinese food. Every weekend, I studied at a local Chinese spot owned by the parents of a friend. With an array of books and delicious dishes scattered across the table, we studied together while her parents fed us. Her mom made the best sesame seed chicken I had ever eaten. It was so crunchy no matter how much sauce it was drowning in. It wasn’t sweet, but had a nice heat that made me want more.
While I never asked her how to make her signature dredge and sauce, I worked in the kitchen with her sometimes as a study break, and I started to learn more about Chinese cooking. The dish offered a lot of flavor without needing a laundry list of ingredients.
Bring Chinese takeout to your home with this simple recipe that you can eat with crispy tofu or chicken. Even if sesame seed chicken isn’t your thing, the fried chicken nuggets are crispy, crunchy and full of flavor all by themselves and will go perfectly with any of your favorite sauces. If you like sesame seed chicken as much as I do, you want this sauce recipe in your back pocket. With a combination of dark soy sauce and chili crunch, you get a nice umami flavor followed by a little kick of heat. These nuggets are sure to please the family.
What is takeout without the appetizers? I absolutely love crab rangoons, and just like the chicken, they’re easy and fun to make at home.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serving size: 16 wontons
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 5 ounces crab meat, drained
- 1 green onion
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 16 wonton wrappers (found at any Asian food store in the noodle or refrigerator section)
- Combine all ingredients except wonton wrappers in a bowl.
- Heat Dutch oven or deep fryer with about 2 inches of oil to 325 degrees. (If you want to use the oven or air fry them, see instructions below.)
- Filling and folding: Place 2 teaspoons of crab filling on laid-out wonton. Dip your fingers in water and wet the edges. Fold one corner diagonally to the other and press sides to seal. You can also bunch all corners to the center and make a little sac. Either way you need to make sure your wonton is sealed.
- Deep fry in oil for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
Oven bake: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Place wontons on baking sheet, spray generously with cooking spray. Bake 12-14 minutes.
Air fry: Preheat the air fryer to 370 degrees. Place wontons in cooking tray, spray each generously with cooking spray. Bake 7-9 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Spicy Sesame Seed Chicken (or tofu)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serving size: 4-6 people
Marinade for chicken
- 1 egg white
- 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (light is fine)
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (you can use dry cooking sherry in its place)
- 2 tablespoons vodka
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 24 ounces tofu
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
Sesame seed sauce
- 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chili crunch (chili oil)
- 3 tablespoons chicken broth (or water)
- 4 tablespoons dark brown or brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
- 1 small minced shallot
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 thumb of minced ginger
- 1 small scallion, chopped (for garnish)
- Marinade: Beat egg white in a large bowl until lightly foamy. Add soy sauce, wine and vodka and whisk to combine. Set half of the marinade aside in a small bowl, about ¼ cup.
- Add baking soda and cornstarch to the large bowl, and combine until smooth. Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces and add to large bowl. Mix until chicken is evenly coated. Cover and set aside.
- Dredge: Combine all ingredients into a bowl and drizzle in the reserved ¼ cup of marinade to the flour. Whisk into flour to create small lumps. If they’re too large, you can crumble them down with your hands.
- Make chicken: Pour 2 inches of vegetable, peanut or canola oil into a Dutch oven or deep fryer. Heat oil to 350 to 375 degrees (or air fryer to 400 degrees).
- While oil is heating, toss marinated pieces of chicken in the dry dredge. Be sure to press the chicken in to pick up the nibble bites. If you are doing this well before oil is heated, place on a wire rack and let sit until oil is ready.
- Fry for 4 minutes until crispy. Cook in batches until all chicken is done. Place finished chicken on paper towel or wire rack. Toss in sesame seed sauce.
- Wrap tofu in paper towel and press with something heavy for 15 minutes. Flip and press for another 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Combine cornstarch and white pepper in bowl. Cut tofu into bite-size cubes and toss tofu.
- Place tofu on baking sheet covered with silicone or parchment. Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake for another 10 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Toss in sesame seed sauce.
Sesame seed sauce
- In large bowl, combine soy sauce, Shaoxing, rice vinegar, chili crunch, chicken broth, dark brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of sesame seed and cornstarch. Combine and set aside.
- In wok (or deep dish large skillet; you’ll need to toss the chicken or tofu) over medium heat, add sesame seed oil, shallots, garlic and ginger. Cook for 3 minutes, continuously moving around the pan.
- Add sauce and cook until it starts to thicken. Add chicken or tofu in batches, quickly toss and place on serving dish. Use remaining sesame seeds as garnish.